Boxes, Black Holes?
What exactly was going on in the cockpit the final
minutes and seconds of TWA 800, American 587, United 93 or Egypt 990?
Given the terrorist shadows and direct connections to these flights, one
would think the FAA was doing everything in its power to make sure we know
for certain if they were accidents or attacks. You’d think that at very
least they would want to know.
This will come as
no surprise to some and a shock to many. When a jet airliner loses primary
electrical power the black boxes stop recording. Flight Data Recorders and
Cockpit Voice Recorders are the primary tools used by air disaster
investigators to determine what exactly occurred in the critical moments
or even many minutes before a crash. However, once a jetliner loses
electrical power both “black boxes” stop recording, leaving
transportation safety and crime scene investigators and the public in the
dark, should a flight go down. The boxes have no back up batteries.
While the FAA
has mandated upgrades to have these recorders monitor and record
between dozens and as many as 700 parameters of the aircraft operations
ranging from what is said in the cockpit to what all moving parts are
doing, to altitude, to airspeed, etc. how the black boxes are powered and
data being fed to them has seemingly been ignored by the FAA. Not that
they don’t know this, they are well aware of the problem. In March of
1999 after Swiss Air 111 crashed, the NTSB issued recommendations A-99-16
through 18 to the FAA which address this issue. However as late as July
2001, after Egypt Air 990, the FAA had done nothing,
causing the NTSB
to urge the FAA to “act expeditiously” and considered and
documented the FAA response and in action as “unacceptable.” The NTBS
has put the matter on their “most wanted list.”
If the engines fail and power from them stops or if
electrical current is severed and never makes it to the “black boxes”
they simply stop recording.
Remember, there is no back up emergency battery power supplied to the
boxes, in spite of the fact that as many as 150 back up batteries are on
board an airliner. Which could mean that while emergency lighting comes on
in the passenger cabin, the black boxes have stopped working. A 30 year
veteran airline pilot and certified flight safety expert said, “they
build the boxes to withstand smacking into the ground at mach speed, but
not to keep recording during electrical power loss.”
Swissair 111which plunged into the Atlantic in 1998,
due to an electrical fire and power failure, we think, had the final six
tragic minutes missing from the black boxes. Numerous cases have been
sited by the NTSB in their recommendations to the FAA including TWA 800.
Their point is clear when investigating Egypt air
990, the flight deliberately crashed by the co-pilot off of Nantucket. The
NTSB Report makes these shortcomings, in the most important system of
accident investigation, frighteningly obvious. While chilling detailed
conversations between the pilot and co-pilot, the co-pilot’s Islamic
praying, everything the jet did, every system command, every slight
movement the plane made were all recorded and part of the report, the
actual final dive and final minutes of the suicide flight into the ocean
were not. The co-pilot shut down fuel to the engines at about 27,000 feet,
once the electricity being generated by the engines stopped the two
recorders stopped working.
What happened in the final dive of Egypt flight 990,
even how long it took was not recorded.
The NTSB final report states, “The
FDR and CVR, (the black boxes) stopped recording at 0150:36:64 and
0150:38:47 respectively….the last responder return…was received by
Nantucket radar at 0150:34………….”
The Boeing 767 was still at or above about 25,000 at that time. Even if
deliberately sent into a nose dive, as is believed to be the case here,
the jet would only be able to descend at between 10,000 and 15,000 feet
per minute. At least the final two minutes, maybe more, were never
monitored or recorded and as such never analyzed by NTSB investigators.
Critical data telling the final story of Egypt Air Flight 990 is lost
forever. What happened to that flight? What happens when a 767 is sent
into such a dramatic decent? What happens to its flight surfaces,
structural integrity, etc.?
about the remainder flight 990
(after it climbed back to 25,000 feet an unknown number of minutes
before impact) came from the
airplane’s two debris fields….before it started a second decent, which
continued until the airplane impacted the ocean.” That from the
NTSB. That’s all from the
NTSB on the final minutes.
While many blame government cover ups for missing
final moments or gaps from TWA 800 or United 93 or even American Flight
587 and other downed airliners’ black boxes, it may not be a case of
government cover at all or it may very well be. The gaps and missing
moments could be power failures or even short intermittent power
interruptions. If a plane is hit by a missile or exploding due to a bomb
blast, it would seem plausible that power could be interrupted permanently
or intermittently causing the boxes to stop recording and keeping secret
forever what was going on in the aircraft as it came down. Under those
circumstances as pilots are trying franticly to keep the plane in the air,
they might be too busy to crank up back up generators, their APU’s,
Auxiliary Power Units and automatic back up power systems would likely be
damaged and not functioning in such a scenario.
At a time when we are at war against and expecting
terrorism again, knowing and having proof of exactly what happened for the
entire duration of a doomed flight, seems to be at very least a
matter of national security.
Was TWA 800 shot down? Was American 587 (Rockaway) or
United 93 (Pennsylvania) in
fact brought down by a terrorist’s bomb? As long as the black boxes
themselves can’t answer those questions, without question, we have to
rely on the FAA and NTSB to tell us, what they want
to tell us, about what they say,
they think happened.
Does the FAA not fix this problem to allow the
element of plausible deniability? If by design the boxes malfunction
during a catastrophic event, who is to know why there are missing moments
of audio and data?
The government would still control the data and what
was released to the public even if the black boxes’ black holes are
plugged up with batteries. The recordings are officially considered
confidential and secret by the government. Congress even had its hand in
making it so the feds control all the information.
I asked an aviation safety expert and critic of the
FAA, “What if the boxes had their own back up batteries, not draining
power from anywhere else and transmitted data live over public airwaves on
designated frequencies, in addition to recording everything, to insure the
public knew what happened?”
His response, “Why would the FAA want to do
While cameras are being installed to monitor what we
are doing in commercial airliners under the legal theory that what goes on
is in public, it would seem then that the public has a right to know too.